More than 650 children have been recruited into armed groups in South Sudan since the beginning of the year, the UN children’s agency Unicef has said.
Supporters of President Salva Kiir and his rival Riek Machar had both intensified their recruitment drives since July, when a new round of conflict broke out, Unicef added.
Speaking to the BBC after visiting South Sudan, Unicef deputy executive director Justin Forsyth said:
You see child soldiers as you drive along the roads, just in uniforms and who have been recently recruited.”
Mr Forsyth said there was widespread malnutrition and some areas faced a threat of famine:
We have to be honest, we’re doing sticking-plaster jobs. I mean we’re trying to save children’s lives, save mothers’ lives. It’s a sticking-plaster.
The only long-term sustainable solution to this problem is if the different parties to the conflict resolve their differences and establish proper governance in South Sudan. And until that happens we’ll continue to be on the brink of this very serious situation, which may tip over.”
South Sudan’s government has recruited boys as soldiers, while it prepares for renewed conflict, the Associated Press news agency quotes a leaked UN document as saying.
A senior politician led the recruitment of the boys, some as young as 12, from a village, using intimidation, it adds.
The document indicates that the recruitment of children took place shortly after the UN Security Council approved a resolution about a week ago to send an extra 4,000 troops to South Susan to protect civilians after a new round of fighting broke out in the capital, Juba, last month, AP reports.
The fighting was between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and his sacked deputy, Riek Machar, who has fled the country.